Microsoft stands firm in the 'great Linux debate'

Microsoft stands firm in the 'great Linux debate'

Summary: The software giant ventured into hostile territory on Wednesday to argue its case during a live debate over the future of the Linux desktop


HP, Red Hat, Novell and Sun talking about open-source and Linux at this year's LinuxExpo -- that's not news. But Microsoft joining in -- now that's news.

Microsoft UK's national systems engineer Bradley Tipp braved the Linux zealots to argue Redmond's corner at the London event. Questions from the audience ranged from "why is it so difficult to buy a laptop that's not preloaded with Windows?" to the wider implications of open-source software for the technology industry as a whole.

ZDNet UK was on hand to record all the action and ponder whether Microsoft's man would get out of the room alive after attacking the Linux General Public License (GPL) and admitting to some suspect past behaviour.
Question: Is there real competition on the desktop yet?
Samba/HP: If you're an enterprise user and you are not at least piloting Linux on the desktop then you're paying too much for your Microsoft software.

Novell: If the question is, "is there serious competition on the desktop today?" then the answer is no. Three or four years ago, if you'd asked if there was competition on the server, then the answer would be no. But today 22 per cent of the server market is Linux, tomorrow that number is going to sky-rocket up. Today, the Linux desktop is very good but three years from now I think you'll begin to see those kinds of numbers. And I think it's only as Linux desktop proceeds that we will see Microsoft innovate. Give a year, give two years and we will see frantic competition on the desktop.

Red Hat: There are definitely some elements lacking that we need to invest in. So, if we talk about the consumer market then we have Microsoft with a very mature product that everyone understands and Linux is not quite there yet. But the only way we tackle that is through investment. It won't happen as an on/off switch – suddenly it's arrived – no I think we are going to see an ever increasing use of the desktop.

Microsoft: I agree with what most of the guys had to say. There certainly is competition. I think Microsoft does its best work when there is innovation -- so bring it on is basically what I say.

Sun: My view is that you have to look at what the outcomes are. What could we expect if competition was happening? If your idea of the outcome of competition is complete displacement of what there was before then that isn't going to happen. What we are going to see is increase in choice, increase in competition and related increase in innovation. I think there is competition and the outcome of it will be positive.

Question: It's extremely difficult to buy a bare machine – particularly a laptop -- without the Microsoft OS on it. What have Microsoft, IBM and HP to say about that?
Samba/HP: I think HP recently announced that they would sell laptops with Linux on there. In the US, you can definitely buy laptops and desktops with Linux installed. But I understand where you are coming from, as the first thing I had to do when I got my internal HP laptop was to basically reformat the disc without booting Windows. It is finally beginning to change. There should have been a Government solution to enforce, that you should be able to buy a laptop and return the software for a refund. I think it's a scandal that you can't do that.

IBM: At the moment we certify Linux on our ThinkPads. I think as the market develops, it is going to be interesting to see how this plays out and if it's similar to the way it has played out in servers.

Microsoft: I think there is a couple of really interesting things to come out of this. Firstly is, we don't sell laptops so what these companies choose to do with their products is up to them. Despite what you may think, there is no restriction in the licensing terms with either of these companies that says they can't provide naked machines -- they can absolutely do that. If you look at the DOJ agreement from some time ago now, one of things we are restricted from doing by law is putting in clauses that would do that sort of thing. It may have happened in the past, it certainly doesn't happen anymore. So don't blame us.

Topics: Apps, Software Development

Andrew Donoghue

About Andrew Donoghue

"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism."

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Andrew Donoghue is a freelance technology and business journalist with over ten years on leading titles such as Computing, SC Magazine, BusinessGreen and

Specialising in sustainable IT and technology in the developing world, he has reported and volunteered on African aid projects, as well as working with charitable organisations such as the UN Foundation and Computer Aid.

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  • I guess MS has a point that none of the organizations involved could answer... How would a programmer who wants to make a living out of his programming abilities would survive it everything is for free. The companies who want to go for hybrid structure are really confused about their future thats why they talk like that (NOVELL). You cannot ride two boats going in two different directions. For me Open source is good for educational purpose, commertially me or my organization would go for MS.
  • I think that the strongest point made throughout the whole article was the one made by Samba/HP : "You would'nt trust a contractor for building your bridge if he refuses to give you the blueprints". or so.
    I beleive that there is a tremendous amount of crap inside MS OS products, let alone Office and the original NT4. MS made their bet on the commercials (as continually blabbed out thru the article by the MS guy), Linux bet on open source, and there would be no absolute winner in my view, but definetly whichever way it turns MS already lost (and will lose more) market share, and Linux will gain. Linux is like MS's worst nightmare. The can of worms has opened. Bill never thought that there would be a competitor, and reigned and ruled like the everlasting. With all my technical respect going to MS Office and NT4 OONNLLYY.
  • I can't believe no one called M$ on the weasel words about their Windoze contracts. Yes, the contracts do allow them to ship PCs without Windoze installed.

    BUT, they still have to pay the license fee to M$ for a copy of Windoze that "should" have been preinstalled. This is the infamous "Windows tax".

    This forces those of us who want to punish M$ for their unethical and illegal behaviour to buy used equipment, to keep any of that money from going into their overflowing coffers. On the bright side, since Linux is so much more efficient, those old machines run faster than new ones with Windoze on them.
  • >IBM: At the moment we certify Linux on our ThinkPads.
    > I think as the market develops,
    >it is going to be interesting to see
    >how this plays out and if it's similar to the way it has played
    >out in servers.

    "certification" is useless.

    I quote from the spec sheet for the
    Thinkpad x40:

    >Supported operating system: Microsoft Windows
    >NT 4.0, Microsoft Windows 2000, Microsoft Windows XP
    >Professional, Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition


    I detect some duplicity here.
  • M$ wishes it could be the ONE source of all the stuff on my desktop. Linux assumes different sources for all the stuff.

    M$ embodies a "totalitarian" philosophy of things: software, imposed from above, like Holy Writ. Not a problem if the writ isn't riddled with rot, bloat, and holes for spyware and other crap.

    Linux also imposes on enterprise computing the need for sys managers who know software, who can decide for themselves what's working, and what's useful. Right now, they choose what to buy because of a day-long seminar sponsored by M$!
  • guys/girls,
    do you realize that if you install Microsoft Office 2003, you cannot go back to Office 2000 or Office XP without any errors?
    It does prevent you from going backwards and THAT is tyranny.
  • It is possible to buy laptops and PCs here in Germany now without an OS installed. You can't buy them at MediaMarkt and the like (equivalent to Dixons/PC World group), but you can buy them mail-order from PC specialists. The problem is, unless the hardware fails, you are on your own when Windows or Linux won't install properly - or you use the paid support lines from MS or your Linux vendor.

    I have a mixed network: a Linux based firewall PCs running SuSE 9, Windows XP Pro and Windows 2000. I am pretty open to both camps. I use the SuSE as a print/file server and as a development platform for Web tools (Apache, PERL etc.) and I use Windows as a development platform for Visual Studio with some of my customers.

    I am becoming less and less enchanted with Microsoft's vision at the moment. Especially when it comes to e-mail. If somebody can't say it in plain text, it probably isn't worth listening to... Why does it need HTML and embedded scripts?

    But Linux isn't the perfect answer either. Its main problem at the moment is that the Linux market is fragmented. There isn't a standard distribution, it is getting closer. If I get myself certified, I get certified on SuSE or Red Hat, *not* Linux. It isn't so straight forward to switch between the different distributions. Some of the config files are standardised, but some vary. Reading an Administration guide to Linux there are caveats such as "If you are using distribution 1, the the file is /etc/xyz/xyz.conf, if you are using distrubtion 2, then it is /etc/servers/xyz/xyz.conf, and if you are using distribution 3, then the package is not loaded during the OS set-up and you will need to download it and manually install it and the config file will be under"/usr/xyz/xyz.conf."

    The different distributions also have different formats for some of their config information.

    Until this is standardised into a common whole, Linux will always be at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, this is one of the differentiating factors between the different distributions...

    People are used to the Microsoft way of plug-in and go, with Linux, there is still a lot of configuration that needs to be done manually without a pretty graphical front-end (it is improving with each new release from the major distributions and third-party GUI config tools are available if you know where to find them and how to install them).

    Linux as a server platform makes sense, depending on what services you need to run. As a desktop platform, it is great for the technically aware user or the company who has a fixed configuration for their users with custom software. But for the Joe Public, who doesn't know his SSL from his elbow, it needs more work.
  • It amazes me how much passion swells up when this topic is introduced. It reminds me of the Java vs. .NET debates of only a couple of years ago. I'm sure it will be in-line with new similar debates in the not-so-distant future.

    What is clear is that there are a few camps of people. There are those who are arguing on religious grounds - it's ethically imperative to destroy Microsoft, or some similar nonsense. The other side touts the difficulties of working with different distributions. The fact of the matter is that we all use what works best in our own business worlds. Whatever that is for you and your organization - then use it. Quit this petty bickering that makes no difference to anyone that is 2 or more levels above the TCP/IP stack in their organization. The fact of the matter is that it is IT pros who are trying desperately to create some inkling of a battle that matters, when in fact, it doesn't. Whatever provides the greatest functionality, for the least cost, in the least amount of time will win. That's how business works folks. IT in and of itself doesn't matter. IT matters only when it drives business capability, which is directly correlated to cutting costs or increasing revenues. That's it. Pure and simple. If the GPL is your view of how best to accomplish that - go for it. Most organizations realize that it is far too risky to use open-source software for critical business operations. So, since Microsoft is the only proprietary software which hasn't sold out their model to open-source (unlike IBM, HP, Sun, etc. - aka, the losers) they are the default choice. The arguments proposed in this article and in the comments so far posted only play one or the other side of the marketing game. Go ahead and fall into that trap - as many do. The decision makers do and always will realize where the business value is. If that someday becomes Linux, then so be it. For now, it is clearly and comfortably in the hands of Microsoft. And to dispel all the related myths of Microsoft's demise, please check out their recent (or any over the last 10 years) earnings statements in the Edgar database online and you will see Microsoft is cleaning house. IBM is preying on those who haven't yet made the transition to client/server even (mainframe, AS/400, etc.) to go to Linux to take advantage of the Intel cost model which means they have no choice but Linux since they couldn't come up with their own viable alternative. Novell clearly lost the network market to Microsoft and is now desperately holding onto IT pros need to reinvent themselves after the fall of the dot-com hoopla they so desperately stirred in attempt at self-importance, Sun completely failed at both hardware and software and resorted to suing as a last ditch effort to survive until Microsoft threw them a bone in order to resolve some of their own legal difficulties, HP always plays both sides of any coin - smart to hedge their bets, but never truly rising to the creme of the crop because of it. It's just hilarious to see how many people have yet to understand what is really going on.

    For those of you who care about your careers - IT, business, or otherwise - bet on Microsoft technologies. For those of you who would rather get into arguments for arguments sake - continue this worthless battle in worthless chatter zones such as this feedback column. I'll be happy to have all you ex-Linux admins serve me fries on my next skiing trip.